On any given week day, approximately 55 million students and 7 million staff members flock to school buildings across the country. We hope that all students and staff members arrive happy, healthy and ready for learning. But what if they are not?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5-20% of the population catches the flu each year. That means cases of the flu can reach up to 12 million in school districts alone. Illness prevention might seem like an easy concept; wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth, stay home if you are sick. But many people don’t follow proper protocol, consequently, infecting hundreds of others. With cold and flu season amongst us, now is a great time to revisit some tried and true illness prevention practices and possibly consider a few new ones.
1. According to the CDC, getting a flu vaccine is the single best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Schools should consider opening a vaccination clinic for students and staff members. These clinics can often be operated by local public health department personnel.
2. Include hand washing time in student schedules. The CDC recommends scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds. The amount of time it takes to use the restroom, wash your hands properly, visit your locker, exchange books or even grab a drink of water, can really add up. For schools with no room for flexibility in their schedules, adding hand sanitizing stations in the hallways could add another level of protection. In lieu of soap and water, the CDC suggests alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, like Deb® InstantFOAM.
3. Implement flexible sick leave policies for faculty. According to a recent study by Staples, nearly 90% of workers surveyed admitted to showing up for work despite knowing they were contagious. Adding additional sick days for faculty during cold and flu season or allowing sick time to roll over from year to year, might reduce the number of contagious faculty members roaming the hallways.
4. Avoid the use of perfect attendance awards. A sick student on the edge of recovery may decide to go to school for fear of losing their perfect attendance status. A better option for schools could be implementing an “Excellence Attendance Award” that is attainable with a 95 percent attendance rate compared to a strict 100 percent.
5. Cross-train staff members so colleagues can cover for those who are ill and need to stay home. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that U.S. teachers miss an average of 5.3 school days a year, costing districts $2 billion annually on substitute teacher pay. Using existing cross-trained employees over subs could bring millions of dollars back to the school and decrease the anxiety teachers feel when taking a sick day. Teachers should also create detailed lesson plans well in advance so both co-workers and substitutes can step-in during an emergency.
6. If space permits, identify a separate “sick room” for students and faculty to occupy until they are picked up or able to go home.
7. Form relationships with the state and local health officials. Work with the officials to update or create crisis plans before an outbreak arises.
8. Provide adequate hygiene supplies, including clean and functional hand washing stations. According to a recent study from the University of Arizona, about 25% of public restroom dispensers are contaminated with fecal bacteria. That means the very instrument we rely on to help us clean our hands, might be the exact thing making us sick. Soap dispensers are constantly touched by dirty hands and even the best cleaning staff can’t keep up. For an added line of defense, Deb Group incorporates BioCote® silver ion technology into all soap and sanitizer dispensers. BioCote reduces and inhibits the growth of microbes with 99.99% effectiveness and will maintain its antimicrobial performance for the lifetime of the dispenser.
Amidst a sea of educational uncertainties, mandated testing, budget cuts, and the transition to Common Core standards, students, teachers and school administrators are faced with an enormous amount of apprehension. Illness outbreaks do not need to be one of them. With appropriate hygiene standards, proper illness prevention preparations and a little common sense, schools can help protect one-fifth of the country's population from illness.
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